Interview with Shawn Porter, by Sean Nam. See more Hannibal Boxing interviews >>
Shawn Porter’s lifelong zeal for watching professional football hardly distinguishes him from the millions of other pigskin-adoring Americans, but as someone who trades in the haphazard sport of boxing, he is in some sense better positioned than most to pick out football’s relatively stable scheduling nature.
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“I know it’s thirty-eight days to kick off [for the NFL season],” Porter told Hannibal Boxing at a news conference on Monday in downtown Manhattan to announce his September 8 fight with Danny Garcia at the Barclays Center. “That’s my favorite thing about football. You know who’s next. You know who’s coming the week after the next.”
Contrast that to boxing, in which forthcoming matches are as predictable as California wildfires and concepts such as consistency, reliability, and even just plain common sense are generally alien. To be sure, no sport offers a future as obscure and uncertain as boxing. “It’s bittersweet,” Porter continued. “You never know what you’re going to get in boxing.”
A timetable, or some semblance of one, is all that Porter has asked for in recent years. While a match with former titleholder Garcia temporarily quells his hunger pangs for bigger fights, Porter knows he is still a step or two removed from where he really wants to be: in position to challenge a current 147-pound titleholder. Of course, such an arrangement is entirely contingent on whether he beats Garcia in September—that is, if the usual hearsay is to be believed. “I heard two nights ago on Saturday that [Errol] Spence was promised the winner of myself and Danny Garcia,” said Porter, “and to me, that’s a beautiful thing. The welterweight division is still hot right now.”
“Still” is the operative word. If the 147-pound division remains one of boxing’s most competitive and lucrative divisions even in the post-“Money”-Mayweather era, it is all the more remarkable then that the matchups that have been dreamed about endlessly have yet to come to fruition. “It’s been since 2015 that we’ve been trying to get this fight with Danny—three years,” Kenny Porter, Shawn’s father and trainer, said. “(Garcia) knew that we wanted to fight him. He ignored it for such a long time.” On paper, it would seem that such fights should be easy to produce, given that the likes of Porter, Garcia, Keith Thurman, and Spence all participate under the aegis of the PBC, the management-cum-pseudo-promotional outfit which launched in 2015, but has strangely shown little urgency in pairing its top welterweights against each other. Aside from Thurman’s two tussles against Porter and Garcia, there has been otherwise little mixing and matching of the top talents within the 147 stable. (The “de facto tournament” that Showtime, PBC’s preferred broadcasting partner of late, called for in the division apparently fell on deaf ears).
There is little doubt that a guaranteed showdown with Spence, perhaps the world’s most dangerous welterweight champion, would help offer some degree of direction to Porter. Since his points loss to WBC/WBA champion Thurman in 2016, Porter, 28-2-1 (17), has found himself in somewhat wayward straits, spending the past year and a half in a kind of boxing purgatory. He fought only twice in 2017, in eliminator matches buried on undercards: one against over-the-hill Andre Berto and the other against overmatched Adrian Granados, all in the hope of rematching with Thurman. But after sustaining an injury in his own fight against Garcia in March of 2017 and another reportedly during training camp this year, Thurman has been absent from the welterweight picture from some fifteen-odd months, causing both Porter and his father to grumble at what they perceive as prevarications tantamount to putting a stranglehold on the division. That Thurman has stated repeatedly that he would like no less than a couple of tune-up fights makes the prospect of seeing a return bout with Porter anytime soon wholly unrealistic. Porter freely concedes this. “I’m not set on Keith anymore,” said Porter, without a hint of rancor, adding that he only wants to face Thurman only when he is in top form, that way there are no excuses when he beats him.
The well-mannered and upbeat Porter, to his credit, recognizes his place in the boxing pecking order. “Some fighters have to wait for what the division has to do,” Porter stated during the press conference, in a not-so-veiled reference to Thurman. “Some guys have to wait.” “We’re second fiddle,” his father concurred afterward. “Oh, yeah, we’re second fiddle.” But, as Kenny explains, his son’s not-quite first-class status in the PBC hierarchy is much of his own doing. “Shawn isn’t a loud guy, he isn’t a boisterous guy that runs around with an entourage which brings more attention,” stated Kenny, suggesting that Porter would have more negotiating clout if he was more vocal. “Adrien Broner (whom Porter defeated in 2015) is like that—the antics—it makes more people sit down and watch. And [Shawn] is not exciting from the standpoint of doing those things outside of the ring.”
That said, Porter’s cheerful veneer seemed to have cracked in places earlier this year when he encountered Thurman in Las Vegas during the Garcia-Brandon Rios card. What started as friendly banter before the press gave way to a testy quarrel that ended with the two having to be separated. Though such an outburst is almost to be expected of the frequently bombastic Thurman, it was surprising to see the typically relaxed Porter fire back. According to Porter, he was genuinely irked by Thurman’s refusal to give him a straight answer. “I know Keith,” Porter explained. “I didn’t expect him to do to me what he does to most of the media, dancing around my questions, having fun. I didn’t expect him to do that with me. I thought it was getting to the point where he was indirectly answering my questions and obvious that he knew what he was doing, so it ended the way it ended.”
Porter demurred when asked if people should now expect him to be more outspoken. “There was a lot going on that night. I think maybe after that intense conversation which I didn’t expect, I just wanted to end [all the talk about a rematch]. So I went from Keith to the other guy that I’ve been wanting to fight for a long time.”
The other guy is Garcia, whose post-fight interview Porter would uncharacteristically interrupt later that night in brazen fashion. Though he lacks a taste for histrionics and is traditionally averse to calling fighters out, preferring instead to wait by the phone for offers from his management, Porter, thirty, understands that the window of his prime—and chance at world title fights—will soon begin to close. In that light, standing idly no longer seemed like an attractive option. “It was all about the opportunity,” Porter said. “That’s what I’ve grown to learn. I didn’t know everything that was going to come out of my mouth that night, but I knew there was an opportunity to call (Danny) out in front of everyone and I took advantage of it. Now I’m actually getting (a fight) that I internally have wanted for a long time,” said Porter.
“I used to tell Shawn that he needed to speak more but he wouldn’t do it,” Kenny recalled. “I had arguments with him that he wouldn’t call these guys out. Obviously, I didn’t win those arguments. But when he finally did it, that was his decision to do. And it worked out fine.”
By the time he enters the ring on September 8 to face Garcia, Porter will have been out of the ring for nearly ten months. When asked if he believed he will have a second fight before the end of the year, he smiled and quipped, “If the fight goes one round!” Whether Porter’s future will consist of a title fight against Spence or a healthy, tune-up fulfilled Thurman remains murky—but he can eliminate plenty of contingencies by defeating Garcia. In the imperfect, unpredictable world of prizefighting, that sounds as close to being a guarantee as anything else. “The best way to secure a big title fight is to beat Danny. If we beat Danny, we will have a big fight lined up,” Kenny stated. “We gotta beat Danny.”